NHL Draft Lottery night, 2015. Buffalo’s 13,000-square-foot (716) Food and Sport bar is packed like a playoff game, bubbling with anticipation.
But there on the venue’s 38-foot video screen plays not a sport but a draft lottery simulator, created by hometown web developer Rob Zaenglein. Will the local, sad-sack Sabres win Connor McDavid or “settle” for Jack Eichel, the second-ranked generational talent?
“They had my lottery simulator running on a lot of the big screens. Every time Buffalo won, the people at the bar would go crazy, and every time someone else won, they’d boo it,” Zaenglein recalls. “Definitely ended up more popular than I ever would have expected.”
The 2016 NHL Draft Lottery Simulator, Zaenglein’s second crack at the generator, should be especially popular north of Buffalo.
When it comes to the NHL standings and the reversal of fortunes 2016's lottery will bring, Canada's teams aren't bad meaning bad but bad meaning good.
All seven Canadian clubs languishing on the outskirts of the playoff picture means, as of Monday, the No. 1 overall draft choice (i.e., Auston Matthews) has a 69 per cent chance of being selected by a northern franchise. Canada owns the four best-positioned lottery teams and seven of the top 10 favourites.
The Oilers (of course) won the first time we test-drove Zaenglein's invention, and it took us seven clicks before a U.S.-based team (2016 draft host Buffalo) claimed the Matthews Sweepstakes.
Zaenglein noticed that the rebuilding Oilers would launch a similar simulator at the end of each regular season.
"But it was pretty slow and you could only run it one time and then you'd have to refresh the page," the 25-year-old explains. "I figured with the hype of McDavid and Eichel, it would be cool to have one run throughout the year that would update the standings daily and you could keep running over and over quickly and easily."
The original version took just 10 hours to create, but since then Zaenglein has invested an additional 50 to 60 hours to tweak and maintain the site, with more to come.
On Sportsnet's broadcast of the 2015 lottery, Connor McDavid was asked about the lottery simulator.
"He said he had used it a few times," Zaenglein says. "That was super cool."
The '16 version accounts for the brand-new lottery rules, which has the NHL leaning closer to an NBA model.
For the first spring ever, the draft's first three spots are all up for grabs. The non-playoff team with the lowest point total could drop as far as fourth, instead of second under the 2015 rules. The odds of winning the second- and third-overall picks increases on a proportional basis, depending which team won the previous draw.
Despite the site's sadistic allure — if you're trafficking hope, sports fans will buy — the simulator remains ad-free.
"I'd love to make money off of the site's popularity, but I haven't found a good fit," Zaenglein says. "Part of the appeal of the app is its simplicity, and I think covering it with ads would really take away from the joy of using it. Someone donated me $10. That's the most of the money I've made off it."
Drive yourself crazy and procrastinate from real work by running the fake NHL Draft Lottery here.